Nobody Gets Out Alive

Be thankful that you have a life, and forsake your vain and presumptuous desire for a second one. – Richard Dawkins

I’ve been thinking about the illustrious Harold Camping’s apology for is failed multi-doomsday predictions. I guess we can all breathe a sigh of relief, or at least until December rolls around. This got me to thinking about the religious and their obsession with death, judgment, heaven and hell. They call the study of these things eschatology, which, in spite of the “ology,” is not science. It’s just bad philosophy. There’s a plethora of myths in the world regarding what happens to us after we die, and none of that qualifies as science, either. The reality of it, however, is that when we die organs stop functioning, we decay and eventually become part of the ecosystem.This is the natural progression of life. Unfortunately, this scares a lot of people – and we have the church to thank for allowing yet another branch of science become the basis of fear.

There is nothing to fear… 

One explanation is not as good as another, but that point of view is the stock-in-trade of the religious. While it is true that there are aspects of our existence that science has not uncovered an explanation for, pulling any old thing out of your ass is hardly the best method of forming a hypothesis. Using God to fill in the gaps of our knowledge is little more than the projection of ignorance. It’s like filling in the missing fossils of the equine branch of evolution with pictures of unicorns drawn with a crayon.

There is nothing to fear about being dead. Getting there can be problematic given the suffering in the world, disease and, of course, death by violence. Dying can be quite painful, but death doesn’t hurt a bit. The fear of death is borne from the religious concept of eternal punishment after physical death, and this fear is the main source of the cognitive dissonance that is used to justify evangelism, indoctrination and unnatural behavior modification and plays upon the human desire to live on, which is evolutionary and very natural. We have a survival instinct that we share with every other animal on the face of the earth.

Nobody has ever come back from the dead, and there is significant evidence that near death experiences are the product of brain activity that, while in an unconscious state, consist of perceptions that are just not reliable. In fact, the phrase “life after death” is a scientific oxymoron, because death is final. A special note to you linguistic purists out there whose cockles just came alive when the word “resuscitation” popped into your head; yes, a person can be clinically dead and then resuscitated, but I am not referring to clinical death, but dead as in dead and buried, in the grave, plant food, pushing up daisies.

What The Hell…?

I have had conversations with people who have presented what they believe to be scientific evidence of the existence of a hell. They have shown me their charts, graphs, data they have collected from various sites on the Interwebz and, of course, personal testimonies of “respected theologians” who have visited hell as a guest of either Jesus or Satan and have “come back” with stories of unimaginable horror at what they saw – which solidifies in their minds that this scientifically proves that the place exists.

Silly me, I had no idea that scientific knowledge consisted of human sacrifice, eternal damnation, weeping, gnashing of teeth and worms that never stops turning. The whole concept of hell is a serious perversion of reality and is so far removed from science it is not even worth joking about. The fact is that there would be no fear of death without the belief in eternal punishment thereafter. The concept of hell remains one of the most effective marketing strategies that religion has to offer – even surpassing the equally ridiculous concept of heaven because the things we wish for don’t motivate us nearly as powerfully as the things we are in fear of.

Imagine…

The belief among almost all religions that our default existence after death will be one of eternal pain and suffering is genesis of evangelism and the reason why “Savior-centric” religions even exist. Christianity, with its personified evil known as the devil, supports the default eternal punishment myth because it has these same.

Added in to the mix is the self-perpetuating and centrifugal doctrine known as original sin, meaning that humanity is born evil and can do nothing on their own to redeem themselves, no matter how altruistic and selfless they are. This belief in hereditary evil makes redemption through adherence almost compulsory because self-salvation is impossible.

Religion will no longer be necessary when we realize that death is a normal part of life and places like hell are not real and when all of us realize that human beings are not born “as filthy rags.” No matter how much we may not want to die, it is inevitable.

What humanity needs to do is make the best use of the time we have while we are alive.

 

  28 comments for “Nobody Gets Out Alive

  1. kraut
    March 19, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    I do not fear death. I feel sorrow at the idea that I will no longer experience life with all its joys and sorrows, that I can no longer participate in this world, and that I have to leave behind the ones I love.
    I am a bit worried about the process of dying, having had some rather painful experiences when the defense mechanisms of the body fails or an accidents teaches you that you are very vulnerable.

    As my mother used to say – to hell with heaven, I want to be dead when I am dead.

  2. Thorne
    March 19, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    Same here. Dying concerns me. Death does not. But that was the primary hurdle in my finally overcoming my religious upbringing: realizing, really knowing, that there is no hell or heaven. Only oblivion.

  3. davidct
    March 19, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    It seems odd that such a mind numbing fear would not lead to a better behavior. Instead it seems often to result in a schadenfreude where believers can use the idea to make themselves feel superior to others. In spite of what the “good book” actually says about the afterlife, most believers think they will go to the imaginary good place. The scriptures essentially say that no one goes. Since we are all going to hell, we have nothing to lose if we are wrong. There is no point in wasting this life over something we cannot change.

  4. cag
    March 19, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    If imaginary Satan is imaginary god’s enemy, then why would Satan do god’s dirty work? Wouldn’t Satan wish to put it to god at every opportunity? Such a Satan would ensure that hell was a five star destination with activities for every taste. A place where Christopher Hitchens would have no one to debate with.

    Thanks, Al, for your great reads, past, present and future.

  5. confusopoly
    March 19, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    I have to disagree about death being nothing to fear. Ceasing to exist as a person that experiences the world is a terrifying concept.

    Being scary does not affect the truth of a proposition of course.

    But being inevitable and painless (it’s hard to imagine how you could feel pain without brain activity) doesn’t make death something less horrible.

    Even keeping that in mind it is kind of mindboggling to me that there are people who actually WANT to believe in an alternative that is worse than reality.

    I consider the Christian idea of heaven to be worse than oblivion. Because either you will be aware of the people in hell and eternally unable to do anything about it, or, as I’ve heard some people claim, you will be “changed” so that you don’t mind it.

    Changing something that fundamental about how a Person’s mind works means this is no longer the same person.

    So the options I see for a theology with a Christian heaven and hell seem to be the following:

    1. Hell = eternal torture
    2. Heaven (1) = Helplessly watching other people get tortured for eternity.
    3. Heaven (2) = Destruction of your personality so you will no longer care about 2.

    Looking at this, oblivion is still horrible, but the alternative proposed by Christianity in addition to being unsupported by evidence also looks less attractive.

    • March 19, 2012 at 4:44 pm

      Being dead does not terrify me. My troubles will be over, and since I hold no belief in an afterlife, the prospect of being dead holds no more sway over me as the prospect of life before I was born. The issue here involves the cognitive mind trying to conceptualize non-existence. There is no comparative except what the mind can conceive based on mythological indoctrination. I’ll take oblivion because I won’t know about it. I won’t know about anything. The process of dying of anything other than either while asleep or instantly is what most people fear. A slow death being on the top of that list. It has been my understanding that most people fear the prospect of pain after death.

      • confusopoly
        March 19, 2012 at 4:57 pm

        The difference between being dead and the prospect of life before I was born is that I actually exist now and have wishes, desires, goals etc. Something that exists getting destroyed is different from it not existing at all.

        So at least for me, I do not fear the prospect of pain after death. Oblivion is bad enough as it is.

        • Jeff Sherry
          March 19, 2012 at 10:28 pm

          A fear of oblivion strikes me as strange c’poly. Have you never confronted your own mortality when you thought you were going to die in your youth?

  6. kraut
    March 19, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    “Looking at this, oblivion is still horrible”

    No, I did not exist before my birth, and I will cease to exist at one point again. The intermediate time was filled with life – being conscious, feeling emotions…living.
    Death is inevitable, so why should I fear it? Wasted emotions, really.
    Maybe it helps to be over 60 and having seen a lot of your friends die in the last few years…the circle of friends gets smaller, you are confronted with death regularly and have to deal with it on an emotional and intellectual level. It takes away the sting…at least for me. It will come, I hope I die without too much suffering.

    It is similar to when I overcame my fear of spiders. I dealt with it being forced to by my children who knew no fear. Now I love tarantulas.
    I do not “love” death, but I think when it is time to go I will welcome my extinction. I have seen it in quite a few of my friends who were ready when they died.

    • confusopoly
      March 19, 2012 at 5:38 pm

      Yes, it’s amazing what human beings can get used to when there is no alternative. Oblivion is horrible, but it still happens to everyone.

      So we learn to deal with it as best as we can.

  7. Mr.Kosta
    March 19, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    (Offtopic) You know, reading this topic brings this song to my mind.

    Two of the things I most enjoy in life are being with my fiancée and my friends (To me, they’re like my brothers and my sisters and considering my biological brother is an idiot…) and music (I’m a huge fan of all rock/metal spectrum, from 70’s blues rock to raging Death Metal).

    And although I don’t fear death, I cannot avoid feeling a bit of sorrow about not being able to enjoy more moments with those I love, or giving my favourite albums another spin. But I guess I won’t care when the moment arrives. I just won’t be anymore.

  8. Norman Lycan
    March 19, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    Every organism on the planet experiences fear of death. It is a defense mechanism buried deep within our psyche that can be confronted, but it cannot be removed. When you try to stomp on a spider, and it flees in evasive patterns, it may not understand it as it’s fear of death, scientists call it survival instinct, and without it that species would have disappeared long ago.

    The conmen who invented all the religious myths understood this about themselves, and percieved it about all humans. They wondered where the world came from, why am I here, and what is the meaning of life. Well, we don’t know where the world came from, but, why you are here and the meaning of life is to make babies. It the same for all species.

    But humans are unique, they understand on a conscious intellectual level that someday they are going to die, no matter how they resist. Imagine the temptation when the snakeoil salesman tells you, no, death is not the end, it is a transistion from this test level to what you deserve forever, beyond. I guess, that my point is it is our own intellect and awareness, that in our formative stages before stellar science and chemisty, that left us vulnerable to the conmen, witchdoctors, and fakers.

    But, make no mistake, the Vatican, for example, owns priceless treasures of history, that makes it financially invulnerable to any legal assault. LDS is unimaginably rich and is getting richer every day. You cannot even hurt them in the short term by cutting off every dollar they recieve. This a war of war of attrition, because people are quite happy with their forever in bliss. We want to take it from them in exchange for freedom. Tough sell.

    NL

  9. March 19, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    The fact is that there would be no fear of death without the belief in eternal punishment thereafter.

    Not a fact. People (and other animals more or less it’s been pointed out) fear death–at least in the sense of not living anymore. There have been many, many religions that do not hold a belief in eternal punishment, and still people have done everything they could to survive. In fact, there are even semi-Christian sects that believe that everyone is eventually saved, others that believe that Hell doesn’t exist, and some of those that believe most people will cease to exist upon death and only the chosen will get rewarded. Yet those people still generally fear death.

    The belief among almost all religions that our default existence after death will be one of eternal pain and suffering is genesis of evangelism

    I don’t know where you got this notion from. Most religions (including historical ones) hold no such belief. The Abrahamic religions are pretty much unique in this regard.*

    Buddhists believe it is this world that is full of pain and suffering, but you have a chance to escape into oblivion (or bliss).

    Hindus believe that your lot will improve in a future incarnation if you acted according to your duty in this life, and be harder if you failed to do so–but that’s a time-limited situation. Again, the idea is that eventually you will learn to do what it takes to move on from this world and its suffering.

    Originally, Jews believed that death was the end. Immortality came via progeny (at least for men). Many today now hold that there will be a resurrection at some point in the future. Some do believe in punishment of dead evil doers, but as far as I know, this punishment is not supposed to be permanent or eternal.

    Pagans, both ancient and those of the neo variety, do not tend to believe in eternal punishment either. The Greco-Roman version of the afterlife was pretty much as bad as it got, and that was a possibility (not certainty) of having a kind of half-conscious existence as a shade in Hades. Most seem to have believed that the afterworld was another version of this one (thus grave goods etc.). Neo-Pagans tend to believe in either reincarnation and/or (re)unification with nature after death.

    Original sin is a Christian concept.

    *The following is greatly simplified and I apologise for any errors that result.

    • March 19, 2012 at 11:31 pm

      You make some very good points and have offered some interesting information. Perhaps a better way to make my point should have cited the fact that the majority of the religious (i.e, the fact that a vast majority of the world follow the Abrahamic Faiths) hold the position that the default is eternal punishment, etc.

      • Azuma Hazuki
        March 20, 2012 at 11:54 pm

        Actually, Ibis, the Buddhists have huge, pornographically-detailed catalogues of various hells (“naraka”), and various sutras saying tiny sins get you thrown into them for periods of time that make the age of the known universe look infinitesimal. Just look up the n-word up there on wikipedia and prepare not to sleep for a few days.

        I’ve got friends who insist they remember meeting lord Yama/Enma-ou/the generic east Asian “judge of the dead” type, including one who says she spent about 600 years being boiled alive over and over for several hundred murders she committed. She insists too that most people are out of the hells within less than a couple of decades and that the sutras are full of lies, but even so, the point is Buddhism isn’t completely benign either…though hilariously, she also says Yama and his cohort are atheists and don’t care what you believe, only what you did.

        • Leni
          March 21, 2012 at 12:13 pm

          Wow, I did not know this. Sadly, the wiki was short on details. (I’m inclined toward the morbid, sorry!) I will have to google this more sometime.

          Looks like there is a Hindu version of it as well.

          It reminds me a little of the Jewish Gehenna, which, if I understand it correctly, is a place of purification. Every person has a portion of their after-life designated in Gehenna and a portion in Paradise, depending of course on how good or bad they were. I think one portion can get cancelled though- the very good can lose their Gehenna portion and the very bad can lose their paradise portion. It makes me chuckle a bit because it seems like the sort of after-life a that a team of lawyers would devise.

          That’s probably just because I’m used to it being described in rather black or white terms. My father was an atheist and when I asked my very Catholic sister why she thought he was in heaven she said, “Oh because he had last rites while he was in a coma and didn’t have the chance to sin again before he died.” I don’t even know what to do with that. Next to this, the Gehenna thing is downright reasonable.

  10. March 20, 2012 at 4:43 am

    It’s fascinating to hear just how often fear of death takes over the conversation when people hear that one is an atheist. Folks often jump immediately from the topic of God’s existence or non-existence to questions about whether one thinks you just rot in the ground when you dead. I think it’s quite fair in such instances to say that belief in God is standing as proxy for a completely different set of concerns.

  11. John Morales
    March 20, 2012 at 6:19 am

    Obligatory Epicurus:

    Therefore, as Epicurus famously said, “death is nothing to us.” When we exist death is not, and when death exists we are not. All sensation and consciousness ends with death and therefore in death there is neither pleasure nor pain. The fear of death arises from the belief that in death there is awareness.

    • oldebabe
      March 20, 2012 at 3:01 pm

      Good thoughts.

      One other would be to not waste one’s time thinking about death. When it happens, it happens, and there will be no more thinking or questioning. Until then, move on and enjoy.

      I do not `fear’ death, tho dying may be another story. Of course, living is all I know for sure, and it’s instinctive I think to protect ones life, but death is the final adventure, unstoppable, and total nothingness is in every way peaceful. IMO, it’s only disturbing when one is alive and thinking about it, and/or in pain and dying, and wishing for death.

      • Norman Lycan
        March 20, 2012 at 7:42 pm

        Oldbabe said,

        “Good thoughts.

        One other would be to not waste one’s time thinking about death. When it happens, it happens, and there will be no more thinking or questioning.”

        I guess that whatever floats your boat is appropriate. From my perspective is sounds like “denial”. If it works for you, more power to you. But, “denial” of the obvious is what kept me enslaved to religion so long. My inevitable death is with me all the time and REMINDS me to live every day as though it may be my last, we’re uncomfortable friends, but, we make it work.

        NL

        • John Morales
          March 20, 2012 at 8:41 pm

          What do you imagine is being denied?

          • Norman Lycan
            March 21, 2012 at 8:19 pm

            The inevitability of death!!!!!! Is this harrassment or a demonstration of your density?

            NL

          • John Morales
            March 21, 2012 at 10:43 pm

            When it happens, it happens, and there will be no more thinking or questioning. Until then, move on and enjoy.

            That ain’t denial, that’s acceptance.

            (Note the “when” rather than the “if”)

            Is this harrassment or a demonstration of your density?

            Neither; that fails to even be a false dichotomy.

            (You’re not even close enough to be just wrong!)

          • oldebabe
            March 22, 2012 at 2:02 pm

            You need to read Epicurus. I’m not really sure, like John, as to what it is you are imagining, i.e. dead is dead, a fact. Why dwell on it, or continue to agonize once the fact is acknowledged?. What’s the point?

          • John Morales
            March 23, 2012 at 4:06 am

            The wonders of the internet: Epicurus.info:death

  12. StevoR
    March 21, 2012 at 11:55 am

    I have had conversations with people who have presented what they believe to be scientific evidence of the existence of a hell.

    Well they’re quite right! There is a “hell” and it exists on the Moon as a crater named for a Hungarian Jesuit priest and astronomer Maximmilain Hell. See :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hell_(crater)

    for more.

    Pretty sure there’s a volcano on Earth, maybe even a town or two bearing that name too. (Based on that sign shown in the OP here if naught else.)

    Then again, I’m also guessing that *wasn’t* the Hell they were talking about somehow!

  13. David J. Flemng
    March 21, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    A really good book that discusses this topic is “Facing Death: Epicurus and His Critics” by James Warren.

  14. StevoR
    March 22, 2012 at 5:18 am

    Pretty sure there’s a volcano on Earth, maybe even a town or two bearing that name too.

    See also via wikipedia :

    Hell, Arizona, U.S.
    Hell, California, U.S.
    Hell, Michigan, U.S.
    Hell, Grand Cayman, the Cayman Islands
    Hell, Norway, a village in Stjørdal

    So does Hell exist? Hell yeah! Just not like they say it does.

    I vaguely recall reading somehing about a volcano and Norse Goddess being named ‘Hel’ too – maybe with only one ‘l’? – but could be mistaken.

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